20th February 1998 at 00:00
Here is a test for the autonomy of Scottish education. Once the parliament is + established, will teacher pay rises be decided on the merits of a case debated + between unions and employers across the negotiating table, or will a close eye + still be kept on what is happening south of the border? There are two + considerations. One is that with the bulk of funding coming in a Whitehall + block grant, public sector pay levels will be expected to remain more or less + equal across the UK. The second, contradictory point is that this is the fifth + year in which councils have to fund a pay increase from their own resources and+ therefore the arguments post-2000 should be confined to a Scottish context.In + the inevitably tense relationship between Edinburgh ministers and the London + funders the chances of Scottish generosity being allowed to prevail are slight.+ Indeed if the law of supply and demand were to hold sway, English teachers + would outstrip their Scottish colleagues since the shortages appearing in the + south are not paralleled here.In this year's negotiations there are three + elements - the teachers' claim of 4.7 per cent (which as always is in effect + the claim of the majority Educational Institute of Scotland); the councils' + desperate struggle to fix a budget that does not entail savage reductions in + services or staff; and the award south of the border which is made on the + advice of a pay review board to the Government. On the basis of the English pay+ review Scottish teachers would get 3.8 per cent, but the Government intervened+ to stage the award so that the unions say it is now worth only 2.6 per cent + over the year. The missing element in the talks at the Scottish Joint + Negotiating Committee is any input from the millennium review which councils + are conducting along with the unions. It is looking at conditions of service as+ well as pay, but decisions this year will not encompass changes to hours of + work or maximum class sizes. Therefore there is little flexibility. Nor will + the unions readily accede to changes which might create greater flexibility in + the future. Privately they may accept that stipulations stemming from the + seventies and eighties are out of date and expensive to employers. But history + teaches that a temporary salary improvement arising from a committee of inquiry+ or from a "selling out" of conditions would be short-lived whereas favourable + conditions would be sacrificed for ever. Private industry has relentlessly + driven through similar impasses. Imposed settlements are now the order of the + day. Further education colleges, where pay and conditions arguments have + become industrial disputes, are witness to the clash of private and public + sector cultures. The millennium review is unlikely to establish common ground + and therefore the changes sought by local authorities would have to be preceded+ by abolition of the SJNC. The Edinburgh government would then hold more sway, + which in other respects is not a prospect welcome to councillors.